June 13th, 2024

Workers must be placed ahead of profit

By Jensen, Randy on April 29, 2020.

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald


With no public ceremony this year to mark the National Day of Mourning to honour all workers who have died on the job in Canada, Burt Green, former shop steward for CUPE Local 70, still made his solitary way down to the workers’ monument at Mountainview Cemetery on Tuesday as he has done every year since 1984.

With the sun shining down from above and a gentle wind blowing, Green said this year’s National Day of Mourning, taking place under the global shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, was especially bitter and poignant given what he has seen happening during the past few weeks with workers being felled by the disease, particularly at area meat processing plants where three people have now died and where nearly 1,000 more have been infected and put at risk.

“People need to go and make a living, and even in hard times,” he says. “For years governments have told us they are going to work harder to ensure worker safety. I felt very safe when I worked with the City of Lethbridge.

“It took some time, but we got great health and safety throughout the City for their workers.

“(With this COVID situation), companies should be thinking of their workers instead of profit. Everyone has to live, but not off the backs of the workers. That’s ingrained in me.”

Green says when governments and companies put profit before safety there can only be one result: increased workplace injury or death.

“You have got a right not to be put in that jeopardy,” he says simply. “Cargill was scary when I heard about that outbreak, and they kept on going. Brooks is still going. I am so sorry about that. That’s crazy. I don’t understand how they cannot shut down. I feel so bad for the working people there.”

Green shakes his head when he sees those protesting to immediately open the economy without any regard to the health and safety of workers.

“It’s a sad garden we are cultivating right now,” he says. “Just like anyone else, I am worried for all of us. There are people protesting to open up businesses and whatnot, when I see all that, and other kinds of crap, I don’t pay any attention to it. I just hope everybody is safe.”

Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips said all this meatpacking plant tragedy can be laid at the feet of the companies, and at the feet of the UCP government which has abetted them.

“We are seeing it unfold, in real time, this UCP government’s dedication to Occupational Health and Safety,” she says with irony. “We have now lost, by my count, three workers at Cargill and JBS, and still the JBS plant in Brooks, which is one of the largest outbreaks at this point on the continent stemming from one facility, is still running at one shift. This government accepted from (Cargill) a Facetime Occupational Health and Safety report, saying everything was fine. And within a week, they had an outbreak of in excess of 500 people and had a worker die.”

She is also angered by some commentators who have blamed the ailing workers instead of putting the responsibility where it rightly belongs, with decisions made by those who should have had the workers’ safety foremost in mind, but did not.

“Every person who goes to work in the morning deserves to come home to their families and homes healthy and alive,” Phillips says. “This is not something that is up for debate, and it is something that government, through laws, inspection and enforcement, should work to achieve through Occupational Health and Safety every day to make sure it is a reality.”

“The people who work at JBS and Cargill work hard,” she states. “They have come here from all over the world to work hard and make a life for themselves and their families. This is some of the toughest work you can do in this province. They are doing that work, and continue to do that work. They deserve our praise. They deserve to be held up as the hard-working Albertans that they are. They deserve to be treated with respect, and they deserve to have their health care, their community and their safety come first.”

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